Illustration by Manne Green

Contrary to its name, The Snail Movement is picking up speed in its fight to establish unprecedented relief for houseless students. 

In support of the student group, the UC Santa Cruz Academic Senate passed a resolution to create a safe parking program for houseless students on May 17, ratcheting up the pressure on the administration to act. This is the latest step in the campaign, which began when fourth-year Tomás Tedesco founded the Snail Movement in fall 2018. 

“Education serves to bring people forward in the quality of their lives,” Tedesco said. “But if people are trying to pursue their education and they have to move into a car or a tent just to attend school, they should be supported instead of criminalized.” 

If implemented by the administration, the resolution would grant overnight parking access to students who live in their cars. It looks to other safe parking programs across the country as potential models, as well as Assembly Bill 302, which, if passed, would mandate the creation of safe parking programs at all community colleges in California. 

Proponents of the idea mention repeated incidents of police harassing students sleeping in their cars. A safe parking program would eliminate this issue and allow houseless students to use their vehicles as a legitimate living spaces. 

The author of the resolution, literature professor Christopher Connery, became interested in the issue after talking to houseless students like fourth-year Tomás Tedesco. Connery said as a world-class institution, UCSC has a responsibility to do everything in its power to facilitate the success of its students. 

“I’m most interested in thinking outside the box and thinking of ways to get students a safe place to sleep in ways that don’t cripple them financially,” Connery said. “There’s a real range of safe parking programs around the country. My proposal was that the administration get a committee along with houseless students to develop a safe parking program.” 

The Academic Senate’s resolution is only the most recent form of endorsement for the Snail Movement. Over 1,000 people have signed its online petition and the SUA passed a resolution in support. At the UC level, two regents asked Tedesco to outline a five-year plan for implementation of a safe parking program after meeting with him late last year. 

The resolution emphasized student involvement in the implementation of the plan, calling for a joint committee of students and administration officials. Connery would like to see increased engagement from students concerning the housing crisis. 

“I supported this safe parking program because this was a student-initiated thing,” Connery said. “I thought it was a rational response to a crisis that we’re in. For basic democratic reasons I think it’s important for initiative, thought and creativity to come from students.” 

At the Academic Senate’s May 17 meeting, faculty critics of the resolution asked if a safe parking program would send the wrong message by legitimizing cars as places to sleep, and if it would be a substitute for the university taking real action on housing issues. Connery maintained that the university should take any steps it can to help students who struggle with houselessness. 

UCSC has proposed broader solutions, such as Student Housing West and the Kresge renovations, that will provide more opportunities to live on campus. 

“No student at UC Santa Cruz should be without a safe place to live. Any student in need of temporary housing should contact our Slug Support team for support and resources,” said UCSC director of media relations Scott Hernandez-Jason in an email. “The campus will continue to evaluate the needs and concerns of our students, particularly as it relates to housing, and is actively determining how best to move forward at this time.” 

A conversation around houseless students sleeping in cars commenced when the Snail Movement began its advocacy. The Academic Senate’s resolution is the latest form of support for the Snail Movement, pressuring the administration to listen to its demands. 

“Homelessness and the housing crisis has been something that’s been ignored not only at the school level but also the national level,” Tedesco said. “Students will continue to live in vehicles because there’s no dignified housing.” 

Additional reporting by Thomas Sawano.

Correction: A previous version of the article misstated UC Santa Cruz’s position on houseless students’ efforts for a safe parking program. The university has not taken a position. The article has since been corrected.